Mon. May 23rd, 2022

The western alliance has some of the cracks that appeared last week as it sought to deter Russian aggression against Ukraine. President Joe Biden, who suggested that a “minor invasion” by Moscow could divide NATO members, on Monday declared “total unanimity” after a video call with European leaders. U.S. officials said any Russian invasion of his neighbor would provoke sanctions that began “at the top of the escalation ladder.” Efforts are also continuing along the diplomatic track, with the US delivering a letter on Wednesday outlining its response to President Vladimir Putin’s demands to reform Europe’s security architecture.

Train Western efforts to present a united front is still disfigured by one of its most influential members by faltering: Germany. While the US and UK sent defense weapons to Kiev, Berlin refused to do so – blocking the delivery of Estonian whips to Ukraine, which led to outrage of NATO allies. Olaf Scholz’s coalition has sent mixed signals about whether he is willing to Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline as Russian troops enter Ukraine, and to support financial sanctions such as banning Moscow from the Swift interbank payment system.

Historical factors, including Eastern politics, the deduction with Soviet bloc countries initiated by Scholz’s predecessor as chancellor Willy Brandt and a reliance on Russian gas imports built up since the 1970s weighs on Berlin’s thinking. Germany’s position on sending weapons to Ukraine is supported by a long-standing ban on lethal arms exports to conflict areas. The rifles in Estonia came from East Germany, exported to Finland after German reunification, and are therefore covered by end-use restrictions.

However, there are strong reasons for the Scholz administration to show solidarity with US-led efforts to impose robust economic sanctions – and to press the powerful German business lobby to do the same. There can be few greater risks to energy supplies, and to German business relations with Moscow, than a war in the heart of Europe. To do everything possible to persuade Putin to pursue a diplomatic, not military, solution to his security demands is essential. In addition, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has always been a political, not an economic, project – designed to free Russia from dependence on an export pipeline across Ukraine. While Scholz hinted last week that Nord Stream’s future would be in doubt if Russia invaded Ukraine, he should be more explicit in saying that the pipeline could not function in those circumstances.

Sanctions imposed on Russia will have an impact on businesses and the wider economy in Germany and across Europe. But for the threat of sanctions to be a credible deterrent, the Kremlin must believe its peers are willing to suffer some pain. German concerns about the possible side effects of measures against Russian banks – including over Berlin’s ability to make payments for supplies – would be better discussed privately between Western capitals, not publicly labeled.

German companies are not the only ones trying to turn a blind eye to the Ukraine crisis. While they have Russian investments and shareholders to consider, this week was not the time for leading Italian companies to video meeting with Putin about what the Kremlin considered the “potential for further expansion of ties”. Business as usual is hardly possible with a European partner threatening his neighbor with an army of more than 100,000. The best hope for an eventual return to something like normalcy is to strengthen and establish the West’s solidarity in its two-track policy of deterrence and diplomacy.

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